North Carolina

UNC academic counselors told football coaches that players needed the paper classes

Former UNC football coach Butch Davis
Former UNC football coach Butch Davis 2010 News & Observer file photo

North Carolina’s football program had become so dependent on Deborah Crowder, the former manager of UNC’s African and Afro-American Studies department, and her use of irregular classes to keep a stream of players academically eligible over 18 years that her retirement in 2009 caused a panic among the program’s academic counselors.

Two academic counselors hammered home that point in a PowerPoint presentation to the coaching staff, including former head coach Butch Davis. Their intent was to provide a “clear warning” and “ring the alarm bell” for what the paper classes had meant.

In that presentation, football counselor Beth Bridger prepared a slide titled “What was part of the solution in the past?” that enumerated the value of the paper classes. The slide read:

“We put them in classes that met degree requirements in which:

• They didn’t go to class

• They didn’t take notes, have to stay awake

• They didn’t have to meet with professors

• They didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material”


•  20-25 page papers on course topic


Crowder’s involvement

Investigator Kenneth Wainstein revealed these details and many more Wednesday in his report into irregular classes in the AFAM department at UNC. He detailed a series of actions before Crowder’s retirement that showed how deeply Crowder was involved and how valuable she was to the football program.

In addition to the PowerPoint presentation, counselors also created a flier, handed out to football players, to alert them to Crowder’s retirement, and what that would mean for potential grades. In the summer of 2009, football counselor Cynthia Reynolds sent an email to the football operations director imploring the players to turn in their work before Crowder was gone. “Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July ... if the guys papers are not in ... I would expect D’s or C’s at best. Most need better than that ...”

One academic counselor also was instrumental in recruiting former AFAM department chairman Julius Nyang’oro to continue Crowder’s scheme after she retired.

Wainstein called those actions by the academic counselors “particularly illuminating” during his press conference Wednesday.

Crowder created the paper classes and independent studies and handed out grades in those no-show classes to keep athletes eligible. Nyang’oro continued the practice after Crowder retired, according to Wainstein.

In terms of the number of players involved, no one benefited more from what Wainstein called a scheme and a “shadow curriculum” than the football program.

3 football counselors aware

According to the report, out of 1,852 enrollments in paper classes offered by the AFAM department between 1999 and 2009, 994 were by football players.

And out of the 686 enrollments in AFAM independent studies between 1989 and 2011, 361 were by football players.

Crowder’s decision to retire caused a panic for three of the academic counselors, Wainstein said.

Of the people at UNC who knew the full details to the AFAM scheme, Wainstein said three football-specific counselors – Bridger, Reynolds and Jaimie Lee – “were aware of every irregular aspect of these paper classes.”

Wainstein outlined their actions, when they became aware of Crowder’s decision to retire:

1.) Bridger and Lee met with the coaching staff in November 2009 to provide a “clear warning” and “ring the alarm bell” for what the paper classes had meant.

2.) Counselors encouraged the athletes to make sure they took the paper classes while Crowder was still working.

“You only have one more year left of these classes, you’d better take them,” Wainstein said was the message to football players.

It didn’t take long for Crowder’s absence to be felt. The first fall semester after Crowder left, the football team’s GPA was 2.21, its lowest in 10 years. According to the report, 48 football players earned a semester GPA of less than 2.0.

3.) Reynolds, who was the associate director for the counseling program, emailed Andre Williams, the former football operations coordinator, reminding him that the players needed to submit their work before Crowder left, or expect lower grades.

4.) Bridger instructed Lee to build a relationship with Nyang’oro and continue the paper classes after Crowder retirement.

Nyang’oro offered six classes after Crowder’s retirement, one was an independent study that included 13 football players.

Keeping players eligible

According to Wainstein’s report, the AFAM paper courses were offered during the tenure of four football coaches, starting with Mack Brown and spanning through Davis in 2011.

Both John Bunting, the head coach from 2001 to 2006, and Davis, who was the head coach from December 2006 until July 2011, cooperated with Wainstein for the report. Wainstein cited five notable exceptions who refused to cooperate with his investigation, and four had ties to the football program. Two were former coaches Chuck Pagano and Everett Withers, who replaced Davis on an interim basis after Davis was fired.

According to Wainstein’s report, there were 747 enrollments in paper classes during Bunting’s tenure and 181 during Davis’ time.

Wainstein said Bunting and Davis said they knew the classes existed and were easy; but neither knew the extent of Crowder’s involvement, and both thought there was faculty oversight.

Bunting said that Reynolds had told him, and he understood, the AFAM classes were part of the strategy to keep players eligible.

In the report, Davis said he didn’t remember the presentation by Bridger and Lee and he did not realize the paper classes were “so bereft of academic rigor.”

Efforts to reach Davis were unsuccessful.

Current football coach Larry Fedora was hired in 2012, after the university’s academic reforms spawned by previous investigations ended the scheme.

Fedora said Wednesday he was eager for any closure provided by the Wainstein Report.

“We all got here after all these things happened,” Fedora said. “We have had to deal with it. I’m just glad there will be closure with it.”

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